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The 2008 Academic All-Stars 

It's our 14th edition of the only comprehensive effort in Arkansas to recognize academic achievement, though there is no shortage of recognition for athletic teams at Arkansas high schools.

Every year, we invite nominations from all high schools in the state, public and private. They are allowed to nominate one male and one female student.

The applications go through a two-step review to select the final group of 10 male and 10 female students. Grades, test scores, difficulty of courses, extracurricular achievement and community work are among the standards our judges use to grade the nominees.

Academic achievement is paramount. Our winners are invariably ranked at or near the top of their classes. They take mostly Advanced Placement courses. They score high on standardized tests and many winners were named semi-finalists in the prestigious National Merit Scholarship competition.

The students will be honored at a ceremony at UALR this week, where they'll receive plaques and cash awards. Several will appear in features on AETN.

But enough generalities. Let's get down to specifics of our winners.

CYRUS BAHRASSA

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Central

Parents: Feraydoon Bahrassa and Persis Shroff

College Plans: University of Illinois ; aviation

Soaring above

Cyrus Bahrassa has an academic rap sheet that should get him into the most elite colleges in the nation: 17 AP courses, a 35 on the ACT (36 is perfect), a 4.45 GPA. But he isn't content to stay on the ground at an idyllic Ivy League school (he was accepted at several, including Princeton and Yale). Instead, with just one flying lesson under his belt, he wants to study to become a commercial airline pilot at Illinois. “It's just cool to soar over everyone else,” he says. “I enjoy the freedom and grace airplanes offer.”

Cyrus has approached his entire academic career with a similar sense of whimsical possibility. His activities range from Quiz Bowl to volunteer work. He has worked with a youth golf program called First Tee, as well as with the Little Rock Compassion Center, a live-in mission for homeless men.

One of the activities he values most is student government. As president of Central's student body, he prefaced speeches by Bill Clinton and the Little Rock Nine during ceremonies this past September. But for Cyrus, being president is about more than just giving speeches and chatting up classmates during lunch hour. “It has been an incredible experience,” he says, “not only for the Little Rock Nine, but also to represent so diverse a student body.”

If Cyrus puts a lot of stock in diversity, that's because he comes from an unusual background. His father is Iranian and his mother is Indian. His family is one of the few in Little Rock to observe Zoroastrianism, an ancient monotheistic religion with roots in Iran.

That background has informed Cyrus culturally (he loves spicy Indian food) as well as academically (he hopes to one day become fluent in Farsi). And he expects his own scholastic diversity to carry over into college: as he takes to the skies, he also hopes to study German and astrophysics.

HUNTER DUNN

Age: 18

Hometown: Hot Springs

High School: Lake Hamilton High School

Parents: Stan and Nancy Dunn

College Plans: University of Arkansas, University of Tulsa, Harding; pre-med, biology

Humility and service

Hunter Dunn has a passion for Lake Hamilton athletics. Not only does he participate in them — he's a letterman in cross-country, track and swimming — but he also anchors the cheering section at Lake Hamilton's football, basketball and volleyball games. Rebecca Dwiggins, a guidance counselor at the school, says it's all a part of his strong character. “His most outstanding characteristic to me is his humility,” she writes.

Before his junior year, Hunter went to Mexico, where he helped build an orphanage. “In that town there were so many kids whose parents had left them for the border,” he reports. He says the experience helped him appreciate what he has in Arkansas.

Hunter, who's active at Airport Road Church of Christ in Hot Springs, brings an attitude of service to other activities. Lake Hamilton's student council, of which he is the vice-president, is active in the community — Hunter is proud to report that the council raised $2,100 for the Red Cross. He's also president of the Arkansas Association of Student Councils, which means he arranges meetings for the statewide group. And he pursues his interest in government outside of school as a part of the Hot Springs Mayor's Council.

Hunter loves student politics, but he's also into a different sort of running — he logs eight miles daily in preparation for cross-country meets. He keeps his heart rate pumping during the winter as well, specializing in the backstroke for the swim team.

Hunter says his strongest subject is science. As he decides whether to stay close to home or set out for Duke, he is hoping to major in pre-med or biology. “I like the unknown aspect,” he says. “Science makes things make sense.”

ANU GORUKANTI

Age: 17

Hometown: Fort Smith

High School: Southside High School

Parent: Dr. Norender and Jayasree Gorukanti

College plans: Rice University, St. Louis University; pre-med

Future doctor

It's not surprising that Anu, co-captain of Southside's state champion Quiz Bowl team, put a competitive edge in a project she and a friend established to encourage sixth-graders to read.

Her “Battle of the Books,” based on a program she'd loved when she lived in Michigan, drew 70 participants from five schools. Teams of students collaborate on answers to questions about books geared to their age.

Anu describes as the most rewarding experience of her life watching the students whispering furiously at their tables as they discussed their answers. “Not only had I started a reading program, but I had also started a way for children with different backgrounds and interests to unite over a love of reading.”

Rewards aren't rare for Anu. Asked for a single area in which she stands out, Southside counselor David Cagle was stumped. “She's good at everything.”

She's drum major of the marching band and plays flute at the All-Region level. She's a National Merit Semi-finalist and an AP Scholar with Honor. She has earned an A in every high school course, most of them Advanced Placement her last two years. Her 4.29 grade point average is tops in her class of almost 500 students.

She was chosen the 2007 Arkansas Scholastic Press Association Writer of the Year for in-depth articles on a new school security system and Muslim students' journey to Mecca. She's a first-place winner in the Future Business Leaders global business competition. A delegate to Arkansas Girls State, she also participates in the state piano guild.

What does she like most? “I really like helping people and communicating with them.” To that end, she hopes to be a doctor like her father. He's an oncologist, but she wavers between being a physician or surgeon.

CLAYTON ERWIN

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Episcopal Collegiate

Parents: Chuck and Terri Erwin

College Plans: Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Penn, Harvard, others; international studies

Arkansas traveler

It was in Moshi, Tanzania, a town not far from the Kenyan border, that Clayton Erwin experienced what might be called his first international incident. Clayton was in the country on a community service trip with some other Americans who had come to help build a school. On this particular day, the Americans were exploring the town and needed directions. A local man offered to help them, but it soon became clear that he was taking them in the wrong direction. Before Clayton knew it, he was being held up at knife-point. Although he found some other Westerners and asked them for help, they were cool to his requests; eventually it was an African who gave him money to use the phone.

For Clayton, the hold-up and its aftermath was a lesson on the dangers of stereotypes. But the affair didn't stop him from wanting to further pursue international experience. While he has also traveled to Australia, his primary area of interest is Africa. He studied Swahili while in Tanzania, and he hopes to learn more about the continent in the future. “I'm interested in the role the West can play in that part of the world,” Clayton says. “It's a topic that I'd like to pursue in college.”

He'll have plenty of opportunity — he has already been accepted to Yale, and he expects to have several other options on the table. The University of Virginia has selected him as a regional finalist for its Jefferson Scholarship, which pays full tuition plus summer travel.

For now he's keeping himself busy at Episcopal Collegiate as the head of the school's honor council, a student-run group that recommends disciplinary action for students caught lying, cheating or stealing. He also plays the violin — although he admits that it's his aptitude for writing, not music, that will carry him into the future.

RACHEL HOFFMAN

Age: 18

Hometown: Searcy

High School: Searcy High School

Parents: Jim and Laura Hoffman

College plans: University of Tulsa; science

Gracious scholar

When you're a National Merit Finalist and have a perfect 36 on the ACT, conventional wisdom might suggest that you're a driven, competitive student out to nab all the highest academic honors. Not so for Searcy High school's Rachel Hoffman.

With a 4.26 grade point average, heading into her final semester with the opportunity to secure valedictorian or (more likely) salutatorian, Rachel opted not take an additional AP course.

“When we talked about it, she said, ‘You know, that's not where my interest is. I'm not focused on the big labels,' ” says Julia Roddy, Searcy High's guidance counselor. “That kind of describes her. She has such a kind heart, and she's so gracious. She's not trying to outdo anyone.”

In fact, service seems to be at the heart of Rachel's character. For the last three years, she's gone with her church on mission trips to Hungary and the Dominican Republic. In Hungary, where she plans to return this summer, she worked at a camp for youths 8 to 18, where she helped teach English (and the Bible).

Back home, beyond school club service projects, Rachel has used her considerable musical acumen to provide free lessons to sixth-grade beginning trumpet players.

In her seventh year in the band, playing the trumpet, Rachel volunteered to lead the uniform committee, which did not, as an interviewer guessed, involve coordinating colors and selecting epaulets. Instead, Rachel was in charge of making sure 100-plus uniforms stayed clean, without split seams and, most importantly, accounted for. “It was a responsibility welcomed,” she says.

There are, of course, less thankless aspects of being in the band. Like marching in the fall and getting to play the flugelhorn solo in Norah Jones' “Don't Know Why” for a jazz band concert, she says.

Rachel will attend the University of Tulsa in the fall, where suspects she'll study some type of science and possibly play in the pep band.

RUDIS MARTINEZ

Age: 18

Hometown: Berryville

High School: Berryville High School

Parents: Lorena and Jose Martinez

College plans: Yale; computer programming and engineering

American dreamer

Though he laughs it off when the reporter suggests that he might be the perfect poster boy for the American Dream, it's hard to see Berryville's Rudis (pronounced “Rudy”) Martinez as anything but.

Born in El Salvador, coming to America meant starting over for Rudis, who couldn't speak a word of English when he arrived in the country at age 10.

What a difference eight years can make.

These days, he has shot to the top academically and socially at Berryville High School, where he is Student Council president and valedictorian of his graduating class, with a 4.2 GPA. This year, he was part of a group of Berryville students who designed and built an electric car. Recalling his own struggles while learning English, he also volunteers as a translator at the local courthouse, revenue department, hospital and school.

“Usually, immigrants who don't know much English, they go to lawyers to [have them] fill out their immigration forms,” Rudis said. “What I do for them is to fill out their paperwork at no charge so they can save money. I had to go through that as well, and it can be quite expensive, especially if you have several family members.”

After fielding offers from several Ivy League schools (he was getting ready for his interview with Harvard when he realized that it was eight years to the day since he left El Salvador to come to America), Rudis has settled on Yale, where he plans on going into computer engineering and programming.

Asked why he pushes himself so hard academically, Rudis points to his parents, and the sacrifices they made to provide for him.

“Because they don't have the education,” Rudis said, “they can't find a job that's good enough to support themselves financially. They can't have the things they want. I'm able to look at them and see that I really need that education in order to be able to help them out financially — you know, to give them that American Dream. That's the reason why they migrated here, and that's what drives me.”

JACKSON SPRADLEY

Age: 18

Hometown: Lonoke

High School: Cabot High School

Parents: Ples and Patti Spradley

College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; major undecided

Lessons from the farm

Jackson Spradley's high school principal, Zanya Clarkson, suggested that the story of his life could be titled “Great Expectations,” and an essay by Jackson himself indeed has a sort of Dickensian feel to it:

“My sisters and I were raised by our parents on a blueberry farm created by our own labor, labor that I have begun to respect and appreciate, though admittedly grudgingly … ”

One of those sisters is finishing a Peace Corps tour in Mali, West Africa; another is studying in Cairo. Both parents have college degrees. “The expectations he has for himself are definitely not that of your typical Arkansas high school senior,” the principal says.

What he expects now is a career in science of some sort, though he's as yet undecided on a major. “I believe in the search for truth and in basing my decisions on the truth. … My parents have allowed me to develop, through labor, my own convictions and my own morals, which have allowed me to become the person I want to be.”

Jackson tied for first in a graduating class of 564. He was an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Semi-Finalist, won the AP History Award, was nominated for a National Merit Science Award and was chosen for Governor's School. He took every AP math course that Cabot High School offered. His school activities include varsity soccer (he is a three-year letterman), student council secretary and treasurer, Astronomy Club president, stagecraft, broadcasting and the National Honor Society. He's been a math tutor, a volunteer for the Special Olympics and a volunteer for the Cabot Clean-up project.

DANIEL C. THOMPSON

Age: 17

Hometown: Fayetteville

High school: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts

Parents: Kevin and Dana Thompson

College plans: Stanford University; mathematics, literature

Fun with math

When a student like Daniel, who's racked up all As on the eight classes he's taking as a senior, says the “most defining moment” of his life was the day he was accepted to your school, your school has to be proud. And it is. His counselor, Paula Branch, calls him “an exemplary citizen of the school community” who takes part in numerous school activities and acts as Community Leader, guiding prospective students around school and working at open houses.

Daniel, one of two state winners of the Siemens AP Award, says his interest in mathematics took off at ASMSA, thanks to teachers who've done practical work and to the study he's been able to do on his own in abstract math. He's the kind of kid who, at Stanford University last summer for math camp, defined fun as sneaking into the competitive Mathfest event at San Jose (he didn't have a ticket).

But, Daniel says, “I'm not just a mathematician.” He loves literature and world history and, in addition to classes in vector calculus and pure math, he's taking (and acing) Japanese and marine biology. He plays piano and clarinet, the latter in All Region Band. He loves foreign films and “debating politics” with his fellow students at ASMSA. In the two years he's been at the whiz kid school in Hot Springs, Daniel says, “I've learned a different way of thinking about things.” His school has been “everything I thought it would be and more.” And vice versa.

JACOB MORGAN

Age: 18

Hometown: Arkadelphia

High School: Arkadelphia High School

Parents: John and Becky Morgan

College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; engineering

The philosopher

Jacob Morgan, a senior at Arkadelphia High School, started an essay he included in the nomination form for our 2008 Academic All-Stars Team with the following quote from Albert Camus: “If there is a sin against life, it consists … in hoping for another life and eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”

“I've just recently been introduced to the whole existential philosophy thing,” Jacob said. “At first, it was kind of alien to me, but I kind of liked what [Camus] has to say. He's so upbeat. He was like yeah, you've got to be positive about life and take things as they come.”

For his part, Jacob seems bent on getting as much as possible out of his one-life-to-live — both artistically and intellectually.

A National Merit Finalist with a 4.33 GPA, Jacob enjoys the full spectrum that life has to offer. An avid soccer player who plays the baritone sax in both the marching and concert bands at his school, Jacob's favorite subject this year is advanced chemistry. He plans to pursue some facet of engineering — either mechanical or chemical — when he goes off to college at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Arkadelphia High School Principal Herman Thomas said that Jacob's pursuit of excellence has set him apart from others in his class. “Jacob is a well-rounded student, not only in the academic arena, but also in his personal relationships, his extracurricular activities, and his outgoing personality,” Thomas said.

For Jacob, learning is all about the spark of understanding — the mental flash when his effort finally pays off. “I kind of live for that moment when everything kind of clicks in your head and you say, ‘Ah-ha! I've got this!' ” he said. “I guess that kind of motivates me to go on. Even if something really sucks, I know I'll eventually get to kind of an understanding of what's going on. That's really cool for me.”

CARESS REEVES

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Parkview High School

Parents: Lynda and John Reeves

College plans: Harvard University or Pomona College; visual arts

In the picture

In coming years, be sure to sit through the fine-print credits following the Hollywood films you attend. You're likely to catch the name of Parkview's Caress Reeves.

Though Caress has proven herself to be adept in science and math — she has a 4.2 GPA to prove it — it's art that really gets her heart pumping. “Art in general is more expressive,” she said. “It just seems more stimulating than doing math problems or trying to figure out a formula. Things that are abstract or fictional give people ideas they may not have thought about. That can bring them joy or happiness, or make them experience certain feelings that in the real world they might be lacking.”

While she's always loved art, the film bug bit Caress hard in her junior year, after she saw “The Nightmare Before Christmas” for the first time on the big screen. Though there were plenty of others at Parkview who were as passionate about movies as she was, Caress was dismayed to find that there was no club at the school dedicated to watching and discussing motion pictures.

“I thought to myself, well, what about all the students that are on the arts side at Parkview who don't have their own club to be in where they can talk about art and things that are kind of in the mass media? Animation and films are big for my age group, and we really didn't have an outlet at my school.”

With that in mind, Caress started the View-Masters' Club at the school last year. She currently serves as president of the 25-member group, which meets several times a week to discuss films, animation and other forms of visual art.

Caress has been accepted to both Harvard and Pomona and is still trying, at this writing, to decide which she'll choose. After college, Caress said her dream job would be to work behind the scenes in the Hollywood film industry.

DAVID ZWEIG

Age: 17

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High School

Parents: Philip Zweig and Carol Reeves

College plans: University of Georgia, Stanford, Princeton, Hendrix, others; major undecided

Smart fellow

David Zweig tempers big brains — which might be off-putting to some students — with a wry sense of humor. He's number one in his class, but his “highest honor, bar none,” he says, was his selection to be a member of the Fellowship of the Flag, an honor that requires him to carry and protect the Bulldog standard at sporting events and lead the student body in chants. Dr. Martha McNair, David's AP language and composition class teacher, says “there is no student better than David.” She has high praise for a 15-page paper he wrote as a junior on the American Indian Movement of the 1970s (he's also written on the superiority of soccer as a team sport, he says) and calls him “the sort of student who spoils teachers.” David returns the praise, crediting his Fayetteville High teachers for his current passion for English literature. David says the intellectual characteristics of his parents — his dad is a playwright and inventor of the game Wordigo and his mother teaches business at the University of Arkansas — have combined to produce “something unified and dynamic in me.” For example: In his essay for the Times, he mused that last summer he followed up a terrific day paddling the White River with an evening reading “The Prince.” “My passions manifest themselves across a broad spectrum of my experiences.” David says he'll probably end up in academics, but expects that the college he chooses will help chart his future life. Though he'd already applied a multitude (and won a free ride to the University of Georgia) when the Times interviewed him last month, he was still reading up on colleges he might yet want to attend. The world is his oyster; he's taking time to open it.

ANNE Z. YE

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Central

Parents: Jian-Hui and Wei-Win Ye

College plans: MIT, Harvard, Princeton; biomedicine

Perfection

Anne Ye has gotten lots of ink already for her accomplishments: Perfect scores on the PSAT, SAT and ACT, straight As her entire high school career (she's ranked first in her class of 577), one of two state winners of the Siemens AP Award (she's taken every one of the 20 Advanced Placement classes Central has to offer), and so forth. Her biology teacher says her “essays and formal laboratory reports were a work of art.” So it comes as a surprise to hear her say she's not the smartest person she knows. Of her classmates, she says, “A lot of them, I would say, are smarter than me.” Wow! What about those perfect scores? She was “lucky.” This is no false modesty; the soft-spoken teen is perfectly sincere in her praise for her fellow Central students and when she says the school provided her the challenge she thrills to. Anne loves to learn; she said surprises even herself at how subjects she didn't expect to find interesting turn fascinating with study. She likes to teach, too: She tutors during lunch period. Her favorite occupation is higher math; she does problems for fun in her spare time.

But Anne says she's not a grind. She plays piano — romantic and contemporary composers — at home and at church. She likes to hike Pinnacle. She likes to play badminton. And she's the author of “Finding Rootless Matrices Using Jordan Normal Form,” which she wrote at MIT last summer. She's thinking she'll pursue a degree in biomedicine, but she's not sure. “I'm kind of waiting for college where I can take even more classes and explore all my possibilities.”

JANE THOMASON

Age: 17

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Fayetteville High School

Parents: Steven and Katherine Thomason

College plans: College undecided; mathematics and music

Runner and fiddler

A classmate of Jane Thomason's once told a teacher, “Jane has fun doing her homework. Her definition of fun is much broader than mine.”

Homework is not the only thing Jane enjoys. She's been a member of the University of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra since the ninth grade, and is now a member of the select University Chamber Orchestra also. She's a runner on the Fayetteville High School cross-country team and has run charity 5K races for the Lions Club and Habitat for Humanity. She works on the FHS literary magazine, is president of the Science Club, and a member of Mu Alpha Theta and the National Honor Society. She is a Eucharistic minister, lector and acolyte at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. She hangs out with friends.

But she has certainly distinguished herself academically. She's ranked first in a class of 662, and has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout school. She was accepted into the University of Arkansas Honors College as a special student when she was a ninth-grader. This year, she was in four Advanced Placement classes at FHS.

She volunteers at a camp for adults with mental and physical disabilities, and has helped build houses in Fayetteville and Springdale. She went on a mission trip to Bay St. Louis, La., to help rebuild the community after Hurricane Katrina.

Jane is greatly interested in the United Nations' stated goal of ensuring environmental sustainability. “After I finish college, I may apply for a grant or attend a graduate school that would enable me to do research that I could apply to benefit the world's population,” she writes. “I might be doing research into sustainable farming techniques, or into a pest and pesticide relationship.”

CHRIS MULLEN

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Little Rock Christian Academy

Parents: Rusty and Susie Mullen

College plans: UA, Washington University, Virginia; international relations and business

Why not?

Chris Mullen quoted George Bernard Shaw in his all-star nomination essay, about dreaming things that never were and saying, why not?

His young career answers the question. A middle school council president, he says overconfidence cost him a race for freshman high school representative, but taught him a lesson: “Never surrender to failure.”

President of the Student Council at Little Rock Christian and its Model United Nations, he's also an Eagle Scout and served as a U.S. Senate floor page. He's also a debater and a Quiz Bowl team member.

Chris ranks first in a class of 100 with a 4.29 grade point (senior subjects are AP course in calculus, chemistry, European history, language, plus French III and Biblical Worldview IV) and was a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist.

Counselor Elaine Landrum describes Chris as an “electric whirlwind.”

For a young man, he has thought deeply about the future. He's aiming for a law degree and international law practice. “I'd really like to work for the European Union or the State Department.” As his resume indicates, politics is also a passion and potential future goal. A self-described moderate, he sees politics as a way to serve and inspire.

Service is already a part of Mullen's life. His Eagle Scout project was construction of a fire ring and seating area for Little Rock Christian's elementary school. He's a leader in the Order of the Arrow, the highest rung of Scouting. As chief of the Order of the Arrow lodge, he's leading a $500,000 campaign to improve the Order's facilities at the local Scout reservation. “It's a huge undertaking,” Chris says. It is also an example of what Chris says he hopes people would say about him if asked: “He'll go the extra mile for anyone.”

MICHELLE JOHNSON

Age: 18

Hometown: Jonesboro

High School: Nettleton High School

Parents: Bruce and Deborah Johnson

College: Brigham Young University, University of Arkansas or Arkansas State University; math and flute performance

Flutist with hair to spare

Michelle Johnson is too young to remember Crystal Gayle. By her own description, her long locks don't quite approach Gayle's Rapunzel-like lengths, but they're long enough that she still had shoulder-length hair last year after she had 14 inches chopped off for Locks of Love, the non-profit that provides hairpieces to children whose medical conditions have left them with hair loss.

Michelle can't remember what exactly sparked her interest in “Locks,” but she's been getting the big cut every three years since she was in fifth grade and plans to continue.

More, of course, than Marsha Brady maintaining her mane, Michelle is a National Merit Finalist, with a 4.11 grade point average at Nettleton High School. Notably, she's carved out an impressive balance of accomplishments in math and science and music.

A member of the band for seven years, she's a four-year All-Region flutist (giving her interviewer a lesson on etymology, she says she prefers the French-rooted, more Anglicized “flutist” over the Italianate “flautist,” which she thinks sounds pretentious). Last year, she served as Nettleton's drum major.

“It was a great lesson in leadership,” she says. “Beyond learning how to lead and communicate effectively with gestures, you end up teaching members what being in band is about.”

She's also a member of madrigals honors choir. She's been taking voice lessons over the last couple of years and likes singing, as a change of pace from band, because it's “something coming solely from within you.”

Scholastically, she's vice president of the math club, and she's won multiple science fairs, and as a freshman was a finalist in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix. Her project detailed the phenomenon of anti-bubbles. “It's not that advanced,” she said by way of a preface to an explanation that was nevertheless beyond her interviewer's grasp.

PRESTON SCRAPE

Age: 17

Hometown: Jonesboro

High School: Jonesboro High School

Parent: Shelli Millsap

College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; major undecided

Researcher

Preston Scrape's current fascination, the latest of many, is biochemistry, and neuroscience in particular. He leaves school every afternoon and goes to the campus of Arkansas State University, where he works in a neuroscience lab at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute.

“I'm an assistant to a project investigating, fundamentally, nicotine exposure in rats,” he writes. “This is exactly the kind of work I like.” But that doesn't assure it's the kind of work he'll be doing in the future. “I've changed my intended career at least once a year since the eighth grade. There are too many subjects I love to commit too long to any one.”

Jonesboro High counselor Linda Hawkins says that Preston has overcome obstacles, including a certain discomfort in social situations. “He realized these problem areas and has made great strides in overcoming them. He spent the summer after his sophomore year attending a summer leadership seminar at the University of Mississippi. That proved to be a positive experience for him, as did the Arkansas Governor's School he attended last summer.”

Preston has maintained a 4.0 or better grade point average throughout high school. He's been president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math fraternity, has won several science awards, and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society, the Beta Club and the Quiz Bowl team. During Teacher Appreciation Day last year, he taught the physics classes. He's a leader in the online community, having tutored computer science and level design for several years. He's had little time for other community activities. “My mother works a lot so we divide the responsibilities of keeping the house consistently tidy and I drive my younger sisters to appointments.”

AMANDA JOHNSON

Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Pulaski Academy

Parents: Randy and Lynda Johnson

College: Georgetown or University of Pennsylvania

Internationally minded

As a freshman, Amanda Johnson joined Pulaski Academy's Model United Nations club on a whim. Before, she says, she would've had a hard time pointing out the Congo on a map. Today, after four years in the model UN, she's not only conversant on the situation in North Kivu and the latest between Israel and Palestine, she's the president of her school's Model UN. Not quite the Ban Ki-moon (or Kofi Annan for you who haven't been keeping up) of PA, but surely the Zalmay Khalilzad (or John Bolton).

In preparation for Model UN conferences that happen throughout the state, Amanda leads her club in the role of representatives from an assigned country. So far Egypt has been Amanda's favorite. “It's kind of controversial, but you get to be friends with the U.S., too,” she says.

A member of the Young Republicans Society, Amanda laughs at the suggestion that the UN isn't a favorite organization of her party. “I like to think of myself as the exception,” she says. “Internationalism isn't necessarily a conservative or liberal view. Model UN is a way to learn what other countries want from us.”

When asked what she does for fun, Amanda says that she reads the Economist. But her interests stretch far beyond international news.

Before she could read words, she could read music, she says. She's long played the piano, achieving a superior rating from the National Federation of Music Clubs for 10 consecutive years. She's also helped PA's varsity soccer team win two state championships as an outside midfielder. At press time, the team remained unbeaten this year, too.

In the classroom, she recently completed a 62-page thesis on “nationalism as a viable force in destruction of empires.” The thesis was optional. “It was a really good experience,” she says cheerfully.

EMILY KEEN

Age: 17

Hometown: Fayetteville

High School: Springdale High School

Parents: Kendall and Susan Keen

College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; biochemistry

Future pharmacist

Emily Keen credits her sense of humor for helping her get through to a struggling elementary school student she tutored last December, and it comes through when she describes why she wants to become a pharmacist:

“One of my main passions in life is helping people. I'm a little bit OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], so counting things all day and helping people on top of that seemed like the perfect opportunity to me.”

One of the people Emily has helped was a fourth-grader at the elementary school where Emily's mother teaches. He didn't read well, and didn't seem motivated to improve. Emily spent two hours a day with him for two weeks in December after the college classes she took in the mornings ended for the semester. His reading improved, and so did his confidence level, she said.

“I think I got through to him by joking around and being his friend first,” she said. “Having me in class with him made him more comfortable.”

Emily is a dedicated student herself — second in her class at Springdale High School and a four-year recipient of both the High School Academic Excellence Award and the President's Award for Academic Excellence. She'll attend the University of Arkansas on a Chancellor's Scholarship this fall.

Studying, though, has always had to compete with Emily's love of the outdoors. She's on her school's varsity tennis team and loves to hike and go canoeing.

“I try to do all my homework when I first get home, and then I try to get out a couple hours a day and do something,” she said.

Emily said she gets her motivation from her parents.

“I just have the personality of always wanting to make people proud and do my best,” she said. “Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not so great.”

JOANNA KYLE

Age: 17

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Mount St. Mary Academy

Parent: Bill Kyle

College plans: Georgetown University; foreign service

Winning candidate

Chances are, JoAnna Kyle will have absolutely no problem finding a job when she graduates from college. The Mount St. Mary senior, who discovered a passion for politics working on Gov. Mike Beebe's campaign two years ago, is teaching herself Arabic and plans to continue studying it at Georgetown University. And if that doesn't work out, she actually loves what's probably the least popular campaign duty: working the phones.

“You get those more supportive phone calls, but you also get that dose of reality and rejection with hang-ups and interesting voice mail messages,” she said.

JoAnna, 17, has been preparing for her chosen career throughout high school. She's served on the student council for the last three years, was named outstanding delegate at the Model United Nations, was a delegate to Girls' State and Girls' Nation, has interned in the governor's office, and was a delegate to the 2008 U.S. Senate Youth Program, among other politically oriented activities.

She's active in other areas as well: She helps plan school Masses and retreats, is an altar server at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, and served on Mount St. Mary's Diversity Council.

What sets JoAnna apart is that “she has taken the extra steps of actually learning how to shape our country by action and not just by studying the material in school,” her counselor, Sister Lisa Griffith, wrote in her nomination letter.

She's been accepted at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and said she's very interested in international relations, particularly issues relating to the Middle East.

“I think it's a desire to change things,” JoAnna said of her motivation for being involved in politics. “I feel like changing policy is very important. People get disenchanted with the whole system, but you can't be unhappy with something you're unwilling to change yourself.”

JULIA LYON

Age: 18

Hometown: Morrilton

High School: Morrilton High School

Parents: Dr. Jack and Lawana Lyon

College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; major undecided

Experienced volunteer

Julia Lyon may not know what she wants to major in when she starts college this fall, but she has a wide variety of high school experiences to draw from as she figures it out.

Julia has spent hundreds of hours over the past several years volunteering for several organizations — most notably as a counselor at Camp Aldersgate, which hosts summer camps for children with health problems and physical or developmental disabilities. She's spent four weeks at the camp over the last three summers.

“My brother volunteered there, so whenever I was old enough I just jumped into it,” Julia said.

She's also volunteered with the Conway County Care Center and Arkansas Children's Hospital Korporate Kampaign for Kids, served as a volunteer cheerleading coach and made comfort bags for children at the Safe Place Shelter.

She also has an impressive list of academic honors: Ayn Rand Essay Contest semi-finalist, National Merit Semi-Finalist, All-State Quiz Bowl Team member, state Beta Club math champion. She'll attend the University of Arkansas this fall on an Honors College fellowship.

She's also co-captain of the cheerleading squad, captain of the Quiz Bowl team and a member of the varsity soccer team — a sport she didn't even play until three years ago.

“I don't think we've ever won a game,” she said, “but it's a lot of fun.”

Carolyn Bailey, Julia's counselor at Morrilton High School, wrote that “giving up is not in Julia's vocabulary.

“Whether as a student in the classroom, a soccer player on the field, or a cheerleader on the sidelines, you can count on her dedication and sense of responsibility to see things through.”

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